Where film franchises are concerned, the sequel – no matter how often we sneer at the concept – is very important. It’s an opportunity to take the characters established in the first instalment and take them to new places, introduce them to greater threats and challenge them more than ever. For instance, in The Empire Strikes Back, our heroes are pursued across the galaxy, entire new worlds are discovered and a horrific truth is revealed. In Catching Fire, heroine Katniss Everdeen has her loved ones torn away from her and is forced yet again to survive a harrowing game of death.
The reason I bring up these films in relation to Insurgent (the second episode in the Divergent series) is because it involves both a pursuit by evil forces and a leading female character whose list of allies slowly diminishes. In this case, our heroine Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) and hunky protector Four (Theo James) are on the run from the sinister factions under the command of matriarchal Jeanine (Kate Winslet) whilst her associates and friends are similarly hunted.
Having been bored to tears by predecessor Divergent, I can at least assure troubled audiences that the tedious expository layer has departed the picture, and Woodley’s lumpen narration has swiftly followed suit. She takes a pair of scissors to her locks before we reach the five minute mark, and as the hair is cut off, acting talent grows in its place. Whatever may be said of the supporting cast, there is no fault in this star. Those with whom she shares the screen are varying degrees of satisfying: Kate Winslet gets a lot more to do this time around and is quite watchable when she isn’t hiding behind an iPad, plus I’ve finally got over my Theo James aversion; as teen movie hunks go, there are far worse options. Naomi Watts appears partway through as an inexplicably well-dressed resistance leader ever but feels wasted in an easily replaceable role.
The lack of aforementioned exposition means that there’s a gap in the narrative to be filled, but the action sequences scattered throughout feel more like hasty cover-ups than solid filling. Whilst they’re undoubtedly preferable to endless dialogue, they fall somewhat flat and there’s a feeling that the film-makers are holding out on anything too exhilarating for parts 3 and 4.
But whilst some of the suffocating shrubbery has been pruned from the film, a little of the wild-vine remains from part 1: a few of the problems inherent in the source material still hang on for dear life, mostly set pieces and plot elements pinched from far greater YA adaptations. Voldemort’s mocking of Harry Potter letting his friends die before himself is translated to Insurgent’s set of characters and a lot of The Hunger Games’ mad screaming from behind glass walls creeps in every few minutes.
Insurgent makes a visible effort to surpass Divergent, but the rougher edges have yet to be fully refined, and we’re left with a passable teen thriller that – for all its show and tell of an adventurous revolt – is much too restrained. Whatever the merits of the book, this film series has yet to fill me with the spirit of youthful resistance that The Hunger Games has persistently accomplished.